To travel down to 2015’s Transcontinental race I took the ferry over to Calais, and whilst the car crowd sit patiently in long lines, the cyclists go straight to the front of the queue, and it was here that I bumped into a couple of really cool groups.
Cyclists are generally a friendly bunch, and as we got talking, as is usual the parents and kids sounded thoroughly bemused about the TRC, however I was amazed with what they were doing.
One dad was spending 3 days taking his 7yr old son to Paris, which rocked me somewhat as there are a great many groups doing such a ride for charity, and here was a 7yr old with 5 gears about to do the ride.
However it was the other dad (they were both dads for some reason) who was riding with his 12 year old son to Budapest which amazed me, as they were about to spend 3 weeks cycling the breadth of Europe for a summer adventure.
To me, this was incredible. It’s parents like this, along with Minipips, which really got my mind racing, how can I provide an experience for Christopher that he can draw on in the future? With his SAT’s coming up next year, and with him being 10 now and about to go through a dump-truck load of hormonal changes, we wanted to help him develop a coping mechanism, something he can look back to and say to himself that “yeah, this is tricky, but I’ve got this”.
we wanted to help him develop a coping mechanism, something he can look back to and say to himself that “yeah, this is tricky, but I’ve got this”.
He struggles somewhat with aspergers (a form of autism), and this makes certain aspects of his life more challenging that they need to be. As a father it’s my role to help him to grow and develop, but I’m always hyper-aware of his own unique challenges – and whilst I want to keep him wrapped-up and molly-cuddled, I feel it’s important to provide him with an environment that is both safe and supportive, but ultimately can help him to grow as a person.
With that in mind we’ve spent many saturdays over the last few years with Christopher, the star of the trip, helping him to ride his bike, and to gain in confidence. It’s been a slow process but in spring time of this year it really started to click.
For Christopher, aspergers means that picking up motor skills can take longer than other kids, this delay manifests itself in him not being aces at football, getting frustrated (and bored) at activities like table-tennis where fine motor skills are needed, and generally taking time to pick up new skills. Cycling has taken around 3 years to pickup. Granted we’ve not been as consistent as I would have liked (my fault), and we’ve struggled on bikes that were simply too heavy and challenging to ride, but his condition has meant that things just take time, and we’ve worked with him to develop those skills at his own pace.
The acquisition of a child-friendly bike was a positive step, we picked-up the Genesis Beta 26 and never looked back! It’s an appropriately proportioned bike, with a decent range of gears, sensible braking, but joy of joys – it only weighs 11kg!
To put this in context, head over to the Halfords website and you’ll find all manner of bikes weighing 18kg, it’s no wonder he was struggling to push the pedals when it was so ridiculously heavy. At an RRP of £650 it’s certainly not cheap, however with 3 boys looking to grow into it the long-term value seems solid, and did I mention it’s 7kg lighter than the bikes at Halfords!!!
The new bike brought with it some trepidation, gears and drop handlebars were new, but the light weight and smooth-rolling tyres was noticed on the first ride. It didn’t take long for Christopher to tune himself to the new bike and start to enjoy going riding, to the extent that we could start riding out together for an hour at a time. By the time we left his for the trip his furthest ride had been about 25km in one evening – including a punchy climb near our house.
For the child and adult with aspergers, routine can be hugely beneficial, and surprise can leave them emotionally wobbly, so we looked to see what sort of adventure we could have and give him ample notice of it.
As a family (well Anda and the boys) the summer is spent enjoying the Baltic coast of Latvia, and it was to be the same again this year, but we had spoken about taking a road-trip over instead of flying so this was to be the starting point of our cycling adventure (yes, there will be a blog post about road tripping with the 5 of us in a car across the continent)
The plan was simple, finish school on a friday, spend a few days having his brother’s birthday parties, then head over to Rotterdam, via the Hull ferry. Cycle down to Antwerp then on to Geraardsbergen – coincidentally the starting point and date for the 2016 Transcontinental race, then meet the family in Mons and start a car-based road-trip across to Riga!
Training was limited by school and end of term shows and activities, but we managed to get in about a dozen evening rides and an hour most saturdays, and the week before we were due to leave we pick out some funky kit for him from Polaris, and some small gloves from Endura. Naturally being a cycling mail i also got him some proper cycling socks so he could engage in some fluro sock-doping 😉
He was excited, we were excited (and dare I say it, somewhat nervous), and, as it should, the big day ticked around and we found ourself riding up the ramp into the bowels of the P&O ferry to Holland, where our story shall continue soon…..